Not since Game Three of the 2005 series, the nadir of Queensland’s Origin history, has a Maroons team been so humiliated on home soil, NSW scoring inside the final minute of the first half to lead 12-4 at the break and then posting three further tries in the second term to take a 1-0 series lead to Sydney for Game Two on June 21.
Missing some of their greatest ever contributors the Maroons came into the game needing a close contest and a war of attrition but they had no answer for the tackle-busting ways of man of the match Andrew Fifita and fullback James Tedesco.
Fifita treated the Origin arena like an Under-8s carnival in the first 40 minutes, swatting away some of the game’s greatest ever players with disdain as he amassed 119 metres with nine tackle busts in 24 minutes of game-time, finishing with 175 metres and a man-of-the-match nod from the Australian selectors that many thought he should have received in the 2016 Grand Final.
Tedesco too was too much for the Queenslanders to handle, providing the final pass for Mitchell Pearce’s try in the 40th minute, scoring one of his own in the 52nd minute and producing a great Origin goal-line tackle on Matt Gillett to quell any thoughts of a Queensland comeback 16 minutes from full-time.
The Blues lost Pearce and Queensland Anthony Milford after some separate heavy contact in the same passage of play 30 minutes from full-time but it in no way slowed the unrelenting momentum of the Blues who fed off the energy of Wade Graham, Jack Bird and David Klemmer.
Even with the game in their keeping NSW defenders kept turning up to deny first Aidan Guerra and then Darius Boyd in the final 10 minutes, Queensland’s super heroes made to look like mere mortals for the first time in a decade.
The two teams put on almost the perfect half of football to open the game, Tedesco’s desperate effort to reach out and score when he was brought down inches short the only mistake in 37 sets of football.
Queensland started brightly and the Bunker was called in to review a possible try to winger Corey Oates in the fifth minute, but the Blues began to assert their dominance on the back of a devastating opening spell from front rowers Fifita and Woods.
The ability of Woods to continually promote the ball despite the attention of two and three defenders forced the Queensland forwards into extra efforts that began to take a significant toll after just 16 minutes.
Fifita’s one-handed offload under the attempts at tackle from Gillett and Dylan Napa in the seventh minute gave James Maloney a one-on-one with Darius Boyd that ended with the Blues five-eighth scoring under the posts for a 6-0 lead and it wasn’t until Fifita returned after an HIA assessment late in the half that the Blues scored again.
Just as some Jarryd Hayne brilliance looked to have set up a second try-scoring opportunity for NSW, Queensland climbed off the canvas to land a blow of their own, a Cooper Cronk cross-field kick plucked out of the Brisbane sky by a soaring Oates to reduce the deficit to just two points.
Such a scoreline at half-time would have given the Maroons a massive lift mentally, but a bust by Fifita inside the final minute put the Blues back on the attack, Wade Graham’s inside pass to James Tedesco leading to a try to Pearce under the posts 33 seconds from the break.
NSW picked up from where they left off to start the second half with Tedesco’s effort to push through three Queensland players from a dummy-half dart opening up an 18-4 advantage that the Maroons never threatened to challenge.
Three minutes after Tedesco’s try the Blues were handed a gift-wrapped six points from Queensland centre Justin O’Neill, whose simple knock-on a metre out from his own try-line allowed Fifita to top off his most dominant Origin display with a try left of the posts and a 24-4 lead.
A dominant scoreline became a rout when the Blues attacked down the left edge in the 60th minute and a Wade Graham pass put Jarryd Hayne into so much space that he didn’t stop until he got to the large bay of Blues fans, recreating the pose that he struck when he last played for his state in Game Three, 2014.
New South Wales 28 (James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, James Tedesco, Andrew Fifita, Jarryd Hayne tries; Maloney 4 goals) def. Queensland 4 (Corey Oates try) at Suncorp Stadium. Half-time: NSW 12-4. Crowd: 50,390. Man of the match: Andrew Fifita (Blues).